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The Future of Homework

The Future of Homework

HOMEWORK!-There is probably not an area of education that is more hotly debated than this. It doesn’t matter if you are a parent or an educator, opinions will vary. There is the 10-minute rule that a lot of schools use that comes out of the research done by Harris Cooper due to the positive correlation between student achievement and homework. Following this rule of thumb, a child in the first grade would be assigned 10 minutes of homework, while a secondary student would be assigned no more than 90 minutes of homework. However, this principle is not helpful in differentiating based on the needs a child because not all children take the same amount of time on each assignment. So this complexity makes it difficult to make generalizations about how much homework should be given. And, quantity is not the same as quality. There’s been a huge trend towards “Flipped Learning” in which teachers assign a video for students to watch at home and then they do the practice problems at school. Math is a particularly popular subject for this type of homework. In the latest season of the Innovator’s Mindset MOOC,  George Curous interviews Jo Boaler,  a personal math hero of mine, who surprisingly dismissed this approach to math learning.

She explains that, at the end of the day, all this fuss over homework doesn’t matter. In fact, according to research done, it has a negative impact when you look at access to the internet, meaning that disadvantaged families or families without technology in their homes suffer from a “digital divide”. The research on this rather reminds me of the book Future Shock by Alvin Toffler in which one of his main ideas was how technology will create a post-industrial age revolution that will create an economic and psychological chasm. Although back in 1970, these ideas were radical, now in 2017, it has come to past with the era of the “knowledge worker”. And so one has to wonder if our traditional approach to homework is actually serving our students in preparing them for their future, especially as I ponder one of Toffler’s infamous quotes from this book:

The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn. -Alvin Toffler  

At many PYP schools, there has been a shift toward reframing homework as home learning, and parents who have had more traditional educational backgrounds have mixed opinion on this. In a place like Asia, in which students usually take classes after school or attend academies, parents really cringe to hear that there isn’t homework being assigned. And in many ways, sending home worksheets or assignments really helps communicate the learning that is being done in the classroom to families; because parents can see that their child is doing 10 homework problems with expanded notation, they have an obvious idea of the learning that is going on in the classroom. At our school, we send home “learning overviews” that detail the conceptual understanding and learning outcomes of the units of inquiry, adding ways that parents can support the learning at home. Also, since we use we use the app SeeSaw, we post a lot of photos of what we are doing in class. And I wonder if this fills the void that parents feel while meanwhile achieving the aims of preparing students for this “future shock”, that, in many ways, is already underway. At the end of the day, both teachers and parents just want the children to feel successful and equipped for their unknown careers ahead.

What I found most interesting about Boaler’s interview is how she articulates the importance of cultivating students’ genius. More homework? No!-more brain connections!  Jo explains that “when you have a piece of knowledge that you see in different ways”, you can be more of a creative problem solver. And how can homework really achieve that unless it is a passion project or conducting personal research that fosters divergent ways of thinking? More importantly, valuing their ideas helps children to develop confidence, autonomy, and a work ethic. And it can be gymnastics, baking a cake or playing a game. Doing this, rather than a page of math problems, surely will pay higher dividends in the long run. That’s the problem with homework–it’s rarely authentic or inspiring. And if students don’t have an intrinsic drive to learn more, there is absolutely no way that forcing a student to conjugate verbs or memorize the rivers in the world will improve that situation. Getting kids to be deeply curious and willing to try and fail at something is loads better-  that is the only learning that needs to happen, inside or outside the classroom.

So I think that the future of “homework” might just be extinction.

What do you think? Post comments below.

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Judy Imamudeen

Judy Imamudeen

Developing learners as leaders is my joy! As a highly qualified International Baccaluearate (IB) teacher and educational leader, I am committed and passionate about executing its framework and empowering students in creating a future world that works for everyone.

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